In front of a Durham McDonald’s, protesters call for sexual harassment protections

Bearing near-freezing-cold rain and holding signs that read “#MeToo McDonald’s,” a workers’ group rallied Tuesday in front of a Durham McDonald’s, demanding more protection for low-wage workers from sexual harassment.

The Raise Up for $15 group, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union, has been active across the Triangle in recent years, mainly holding rallies to demand the minimum wage be raised to $15 per hour. The minimum wage in North Carolina (and the federal minimum) currently is $7.25 per hour, though other states — and some cities — have raised their minimum wages far higher.

But on Tuesday — with around 50 people gathered in front of the McDonald’s on Hillsborough Road — the group instead tried to call attention to the issue of sexual harassment in the fast-food industry, holding signs and chanting loudly at the entrance to the fast-food chain restaurant. The rally caused both road traffic and traffic to the restaurant itself to slow as drivers momentarily paused to see what was happening.

Tuesday’s protest was part of a wave of like-minded rallies that have been held across the U.S. in the past year, specifically targeting McDonald’s restaurants.

Last September, McDonald’s workers went on strike in places like St. Louis, Los Angeles and Chicago to draw attention to the issue, NBC News reported. And in May of last year, 10 women filed complaints against McDonald’s with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for what they described as a “culture of rampant sexual harassment,” The Atlantic reported.

Efforts to reach McDonald’s, as well as the franchise operator, for this story were not immediately successful.

Timaren Evans, a Durham native at the rally, told the crowd that she suffered harassment when she worked at the McDonald’s on Roxboro Road.

Evans said co-workers would often proposition her for dates and sex on the job, despite repeated requests to stop. After initially being hesitant to report the behavior, the harassment got so bad that Evans said she brought the issue to her general manager. But after reporting it, she said, the harassment didn’t change and, in fact, got worse. (A lawyer for the group who was at the rally said Evans currently has a pending complaint with the EEOC.)

“After I reported my harassment I was made fun of on a regular basis,” Evans said in prepared remarks. “Co-workers and shift managers would sarcastically say things like ‘I better stop now before she makes another sexual harassment report.’ Almost everyone at work joked about my harassment ... I did not feel safe or protected.”

Evans added that she wanted to speak publicly because she doesn’t want anyone else to face what she did. She called on McDonald’s to strengthen and enforce its policy against sexual harassment.

Another woman at the rally, Shamonie Justice, said she was repeatedly harassed when she worked at the McDonald’s on Hillsborough Street, with co-workers and supervisors often commenting on her physical appearance. She said she has yet to report the behavior, adding that she is currently exploring her options.

“I didn’t feel comfortable reporting because I didn’t want everyone to know my business,” she said, while noting other women had previously complained and nothing was done about it.

“But we are tired of keeping quiet ... it’s not okay,” she said. “We are going to keep banding together and keep doing this until they see we are serious.”

While specifics were short at Tuesday’s water-soaked rally, workers have previously listed their demands from McDonald’s online at the website Demands include that McDonald’s:

  • enforce its zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment.

  • hold trainings for managers and employees on how to more effectively respond to harassment complaints.

  • create a company-wide committee made up of workers, corporate and franchisee representatives and women’s rights groups to address sexual harassment issues at the company.

As the cold rain began to intensify on Tuesday, the rally was cut short. But, as they began marching away, protesters turned back toward the restaurant and shouted through cupped hands and bullhorns that “We’ll be back.”